The Greatest Two Minutes in Sports

In Uncategorized on May 1, 2009 at 3:47 pm


Tomorrow marks the running of the 135th Kentucky Derby, also known as the single greatest two minute stretch in sports. The Run For the Roses is better than the two-minute drill, better than the last two minutes of a basketball game, and better than most two minute stretches of baseball games because those primarily include spitting and Julio Lugo cup adjustments. You can make a case that the Derby, if you care at all about horse racing on any level, represents the most exciting, most important two sporting minutes of the year. Winners of the Derby are 1/3 of the way towards cementing their legend in the history of American sport. And racehorses are some of the greatest legends we have. Secretariat. War Admiral. Seabiscuit. The Derby shouldn’t be a hard sell to the casual sports fan, and the diehard has no excuse for not loving all 120 seconds of it. It’s simply a perfect combination of everything that is good about sports.

The famed twin spires

The first essential component to the perfect sporting event is the venue, and you couldn’t ask for a better venue than Churchill Downs. With its imposing twin spires and pillared gallaries, Churchill Downs reeks of history and majesty (I feel like Jim Nantz at Augusta right now) . The atmosphere is packed with tradition. Look up and you see Millionaire’s Row with its lavish box seats and huge-hatted Southern belles, and then look down and you see the complete opposite – out of control, drunken revelry on the infield.The entire event is a totally unique mixture of class and culture. The exceedingly rich rub elbows with exceedingly drunk college kids in beautiful Southern weather and everybody – rich or not-so-rich, native Southern or visiting from elsewhere, drunk on Mint Juleps or Miller lites – they all get together and have a great time. The question is this: Where else can you place a bet, toast a mint julep, and then watch history unfold live in front of you? Nowhere else in the world but Churchill Downs. And that’s why it’s the best. By the time the University of Louisville marching band starts in on “My Kentucky Home” it’s hard to argue that there’s anywhere else in the world you would want to  be.

The next ingredient to the perfect sports cocktail is history and tradition. The Derby has both, in excess. The list of famed horses who have won at Churchill is long and illustrious. In 1937, native Kentuckian War Admiral took the bed of roses, setting the stage for his future legendary match races with Seabiscuit. The son of arguably the most famous horse of all time, Man O’ War, War Admiral’s name is still remembered today. Then in 1973, the Kentucky Derby introduced the world to a 3 year old 1175 pound stallion named Secretariat. He won at the Derby that year in under 2 minutes, and he would burn through the Preakness and the Belmont, clinching the Triple Crown by a ridiculous 31 lengths. 1978 saw the last of the Triple Crown winners, Affirmed, start his run with a win at the Derby, capped off by a late charge to finish at 2:01.20. All in all, the Derby has seen 133 winners in it’s history and each has flown down the same Churchill Downs track. You have Wrigley, you have Fenway, you have Madison Square Garden, and you have Churchhill Downs. Will 2009 bless us with another horse that has a shot at the triple glory?

The last and most important piece of the perfect sports puzzle is the sport itself. Horseracing, while not the national captivator that it used to be, is still one of the most beautiful and breathtaking athletic events  there is. It has all the neccessary components – the endless build-up to the action, the excitable crowd, the goosebump-inducing history, the gobs of money riding on the results, and finally, the 2 minutes of hold-your-breath action. Then there are the athletes themselves – 3 year old, thousand pound mammoth creatures blessed with impossible speed and grace. Car commercials talk about horsepower all the time but they have nothing on the unmatched illustration of actual horse power that is on display every year at Churchill during the first weekend in May. You can say whatever you want about the race or the atmosphere, but the sight of these giant animals galloping effortlessly down a 1 1/4 mile stretch of dirt is unavoidably impressive. 

So, with one last day to go before the 2009 edition of the most exciting two minutes in sports, the Big Question remains – is the next triple crown winner in tomorrow’s field of horses? Will we be talking about this Derby in 20 years as the moment when the next historic horse got its start? Will favorite Pioneer of the Nile come out of the 16th slot to win, or can Papa Clem emerge from the 7th hole as an underdog champion? You’ll have to tune in tomorrow to find out. And trust me, you won’t want to miss it. I was right about Game 6, wasn’t I?

Cue “My Kentucky Home.”


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